ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2013, Vol. 21 ›› Issue (12): 2224-2234.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2013.02224

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Cheater-Detection from Lens of Evolutionary Psychology: Accuracy and Modularity

WU Baopei;ZHU Xiaoqin;CHANG Lei   

  1. (1 School of Humanities & Social Sciences, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 100083, China) (2 Department of Educational Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China)
  • Received:2013-05-06 Online:2013-12-15 Published:2013-12-15
  • Contact: CHANG Lei


Social exchange plays an important role in human group living. However, cooperating individuals risk being exploited by cheaters who only benefit from but do not contribute to the cooperative work. Identifying and punishing cheaters have become a recurrent challenge in human group living so that cognitive functioning to solve this problem is modularized. Such cognitive functioning is referred to as the cheater-detection module. Ample evidence suggests that the cheater-detection module enables automatic perceptual awareness and identification of cheaters even without actual contact with or sufficient knowledge about them. People can also easily detect cheaters by analyzing social exchange scenarios. This higher cognitive reasoning also seems to be domain-specific. Another higher cognitive functioning potentially selected or evolved from cheater detection of group living is source memory. Although still being debated about its domain specificity, there is evidence showing superior source memory of violators of social contracts than that of other things. This debate about the source memory provides an important direction for future research. Other issues requiring further research include what cues people use to identify and memorize cheaters and why people punish social contract violators without apparent benefits. This article reviews these and other central issues of evolutionary cognitive and social psychology and provides directions for future research in this area.

Key words: cheater-detection, social contract theory, social exchange, Wason’s selection task, modularity, evolutionary psychology